Six of the best hard use pocket knives sticking out of a piece of wood under moody lighting.

From left to right: CJRB Kicker, Kershaw Cryo 1555Ti, OKC Rat ll, Cold Steel Pocket Bushman, Kershaw Emerson CQC10K

Everyone Needs at least One Good Beater Folding Knife For EDC. These Folding Knives Are Tough And Affordable

I know it’s not cool to actually use your knives these days. Most of mine sit on my desk or in my drawer, only used a half dozen times while I was testing them and then delegated to the decoration section of my workspace. I do have a small collection of durable budget knives that I use for EDC regularly, though.

And not just use, I beat them to death. They get run through the dirt, pried between an old rusty screw fused to a washer, stabbed into mud while I’m trying to wrangle a torn up irrigation pipe, or thrown against a tree either because I’m trying to startle the big damn spider sitting in a branch, or because I’ve just fallen out of the tree it just feels appropriate in the moment.

A pocket knife in a gloved hand all muddy from cutting irrigation pipe in the ground.

The point is, some knives are made to be used and abused, and it seems like that necessary aspect of knives doesn’t really get highlighted that often. So here are some of the best knives I’ve found for hard use. Either I or my brother have personally used every knife listed in this article. There are also many hard use type knives we tested that we didn’t add to this article, because we didn’t feel they offered a great value for the price.

Here Are Our Top Picks For The Best Hard Use Pocket Knives Under $50

Here Are Our Top Picks For The Best Hard Use Pocket Knives Under $100

Under 50 Dollars

First the cheaper knives. I prefer this price range for absolute beater knives that I am likely to break or lose. I also started the list with pocket knives that have blades 3 inches or under, because, more often than not, I need a knife to get into tiny spaces. They are also really easy to pack around, and usually a smaller size means a lower price so they’re not too bad to replace in the likely event that I lose one. This list is rounded of with the bigger knives for those that need the extra bulk for tough jobs.

Cold Steel Finn Wolf

The Cold Steel Finn Wolf hard use knife with an OD green handle.

  • Overall Length: 8.25″
  • Blade Length: 3.5″
  • Steel: Aus-8A
  • Blade Style: Standard
  • Handle Length: 4.75″
  • Handle Material: Griv-Ex
  • Lock Mechanism: Lockback
  • Open system: Thumbstud
  • Grind: Scandi
  • Carry System: Tip-up pocket clip

This is an Andrew Demko design. For anyone who’s a fan of Cold Steel that’s probably enough information. For the rest, Demko is the mind behind the Cold Steel Bushman, the Spartan, the Espada, the AD-15 and a dozen or so other designs that constitute some of Cold Steel’s most efficiently tough knives on offer these days.

The Cold Steel Finn Wolf knife sticking out of a tree.

The Finn Wolf has a thick 3 mm slab of Aus-8A steel with a scandi grind, which basically means the edge will roll before it chips, and it’s great at cutting a lot of bushcraft tasks. It almost feels like a folding Morakniv knife to me. If the handle felt a little more like rubber, that’s basically what it would be. In fact, that’s pretty much my only complaint about the Finn Wolf: the handle scales aren’t really aggressive or grippy enough. Outside of that, though, the edge is fantastically sharp, and feeling that back lock clunk into place everytime I open it is possibly one of the most satisfying things I’ve experienced with a knife.

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Esee Zancudo

The Esee Zancudo is a great beater knife at an excellent price. Thi shard use knife is perfect for people who use a knife for work on a regular basis.

  • Overall Length: 7.0”
  • Blade Length: 2.9”
  • Steel: Aus-8
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 4.0”
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame
  • Open system: Manual thumb stud
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Reversible tip-down pocket clip

I’ve abused this knife more than anything I own. It’s just the right combination of cheap, tough, and easy to carry to get used in pretty much every dirty job I have to do. It’s not necessarily the best knife for any given job; it’s just one of those little tools that’s always a possible option for helping with any given job.

The Esee Zancudo pocket knife in the open position on a wood background.

The design itself comes from the folks at Esee, but it’s actually manufactured by Blue Ridge knives, which makes most of their stuff in Taiwan. Whatever you think of overseas manufacturing, it’s a big part of why this knife is such a reasonable price, and aside from some blade drift (and let’s be honest, that’s probably at least half my fault), I haven’t had any issues with the manufacturing quality.

I personally own the Aus-8 version of this knife, but they also make a D2 steel version that is, by all reports, much better. Those reports are from people who love D2 steel anyway, and I’m someone who loves Aus-8, so we’re at an impasse. I have yet to get the D2 version and do any kind of side-by-side comparison.

If that seems cool, take a look at my full review of the Zancudo here.

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Ontario RAT 2

The Ontario is an extremely popular tough folding knife that is a great option for camping or working.

 

  • Overall Length: 7.0”
  • Blade Length: 3.0”
  • Steel: Aus-8 or D2
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 4.1”
  • Handle Material: Nylon
  • Lock Mechanism: Liner
  • Open system: Manual thumb stud
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: 4-position pocket clip

A lot of people would argue this is the best knife on the list, and it would be hard to prove them wrong. The Rat 2 is surprisingly comfortable for its size, and the blade stock is thin enough to make it slicey while the actual blade material is generally tough enough that you aren’t risking much more than a rolled edge for most (reasonable) tasks.

It has a similar design to the Zancudo. They’re about the same size and both are available in Aus-8 stainless or D2 tool steel. but I’d be crucified by anyone who’s used a Rat if I didn’t say it’s almost certainly better than the Esee Zancudo. I’ll only say that the Zancudo is all around tougher than the Rat by virtue of the frame lock and thicker blade, but if we’re being honest, you shouldn’t be doing things with knives that require that much more toughness.

The Ontario Rat 2 being gripped in a man's hand outdoors.

Also, if you’re not quite into the exact size of this knife, there’s also the Rat 1, which is slightly larger, and the Rat 3, which is much larger and a fixed blade.

This still splits pocket time with the Zancudo in my EDC rotation, but I have to grudgingly admit that the Rat 2 has aged a little better. I’ve absolutely hammered the action on both of them and had to do several rounds of dissembling maintenance, and each time the Rat 2’s action ends up a little cleaner. I’d still argue they’re close enough that the choice is more about personal preference than quality differences, but I’m also not sure if $20-30 knives are worth this much arguing.

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Kershaw Cryo 1555Ti

The Kershaw Cryo is famous for a reason. It is a well designed pocket knife that is tough enough to withstand hard work,

 

  • Overall Length: 6.5”
  • Blade Length: 2.75”
  • Steel: 8Cr13MoV
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 3.8”
  • Handle Material: Stainless steel
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame lock w/ lockbar stabilizer
  • Open system: Assisted open flipper tab
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: 4-position pocket clip

This is a Rick Hinderer knife, and that’s usually a good indication that it’s a tough blade. It’s also the only reason I’m recommending an assisted open knife. Normally that’s a red flag for me, especially after the ambivalent experience I had with the CRKT Ignitor. I have to make an exception for Hinderer stuff, though, as I rarely pick up one of his knives without getting flush with the sudden feeling of possibility.

The Kershaw Cryo 1555Ti pocket knife sitting on a dusty pile of bricks.

He tends to specialize in easy one-handed open, which is really nice when you’re working on something, especially since the Cryo is pretty thin. Bare-handed that’s not a problem, but if you’re wearing any kind of glove it can get tricky to get a folding knife open one-handed. This thing not only feels incredibly snappy, it feels like something you can smack around in a gloved hand.

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Kershaw Shuffle 2

The Kershaw Shuffle pocket knife outdoors on a log next to a river.

 

  • Overall Length: 6.25”
  • Blade Length: 2.25”
  • Steel: 8Cr13MoV
  • Blade Style: Tanto
  • Handle Length: 4.0″
  • Handle Material: GFN
  • Lock Mechanism: Liner
  • Open system: Thumbstud
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: Tip down, left or right

I generally use this knife for two things: breaking down boxes and opening beers. And if I’m being totally honest I mostly got it for the bottle opening function.

The Kershaw Shuffle ll is a durable pocket knife that has a bottle opener built in to the handle.

 

The tanto blade turns out to be a good workhorse, though. It manages to hold up under heavy pressure, and the liner lock is surprisingly sturdy for such a small knife with a GFN handle. It’s one of the few knives I don’t feel guilty prying with because the steel soft enough to fix up later, and it’s under a price point that makes it pretty painless to replace. It’s one of those small knives that’s probably worth having a couple of just because it’s small enough to lose, cheap enough to break, and between the bottle opener, tough blade, and the flathead lanyard hole at the bottom you can find a hundred little uses for it throughout the day.

Most of the knives in this category are blades you can really hack at stuff with. They’re mostly overbuilt with wide blade stocks and tough frame locks, and for the most part that’s what you want to look for in a larger beater knife. In my opinion (and experience) it should be fairly easy to clean and look like it can survive a ten-foot fall from a tree.

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Kershaw Emerson CQC-10K

The Kershaw Emerson CQC-10K with a hunter green handle on a white background.

 

  • Overall Length: 8.5”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Steel: 8Cr14MoV
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Length: 4.5”
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame Lock
  • Open system: Manual thumb disk / Emerson wave-shaped opener
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: Tip-up pocket clip

It’s hard to beat the brutal efficiency of an Ernest Emerson designed knife. He always makes his knives easy to open, but what’s probably more useful to someone looking for some kind of beater knife is that the tips of his designs are usually pretty solid. Not because they’re stout, he just seems to have some magic understanding of geometry he brings to his designs, so most Emersons tend to have a tougher structure than other knives in the same size.

The Kershaw CQC 10K sticking out of a tree trunk.

The Kershaw CQC series has a lot of knives that frankly don’t seem all that different to me aside from small variations in size and different kinds of steel. I’ve put up the stats for the CQC 10K because I usually see it running for around $40, but if you’ve handled one CQC you have a good idea of how the rest feel. We personally have (and frequently use) an Emerson CQC, but for the life of me I can’t figure out or remember which one it is. It’s good, and hasn’t rusted or snapped yet. That’s all I care about.

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Gerber Flatiron

This cleaver styled pocket knife from Gerber is tough and well designed. If properly cared for it should last for years.

  • Overall Length: 8.5”
  • Blade Length: 3.6”
  • Steel: 7Cr17MoV
  • Blade Style: Cleaver
  • Handle Length:
  • Handle Material: Aluminum
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame lock
  • Open system: Manual thumb hole
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: Tip-up Pocket clip

If you want a good handle for a good price, the Flatiron is one of the best ways you can go. The cleaver blade limits its usability in some ways, but it’s fantastic for detailed shaving work. It has one of the best finger choils of any folding knife I’ve handled personally so it actually feels comfortable to make a feather stick with it.

Gerber Flatiron folding cleaver pocketknife with the blade on on a tree stump.

It’s actually a bit of a paradox, because the knife is clearly overbuilt for hard use, but the design of it seems geared toward finer work. I see it as something designed to shave and slice in potentially harsh environments like a construction or camp site. Either way, it has a tough frame lock and a ton of space for gloved hands to work with comfortably.

If you’d like to read a little more about check out our full review. Or someone else’s. God knows plenty of people have harmed the internet with their own opinions on the Flatiron that you don’t need my ramblings to learn something about it.

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CJRB Kicker

The CJRB Kicker folding knife sitting on a tree stump in the open position.

  • Overall Length: 8.25”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Steel: D2
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Length: 4.75
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Mechanism: Recoil lock
  • Open system: Manual flipper tab
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Tip-up Pocket clip

The CJRB Kicker has some serious hard use specifications. It boast a D2 steel blade with a 3.3mm thick  spine, G-10 handle scales and CJRB’s new and super dependable recoil lock. This knife was designed for hard work. It also makes a great EDC thanks to it’s smooth one opening and easy one handed closing.

The pocket clip can be moved from one side to the other, so this is a great knife for both right or left handers. The flat grind of the blade helps improve it’s overall toughness and makes it a decent food prep knife.

We are currently working on a full review of this handy pocket knife, and we will post a link here when it is done.

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CRKT Shenanigan Z

The Shenanigan is a tough knife with a pocket clicp that needs improvement, but if you are looking for a hard use knife the Shenanigan is a good one for less than $50.

 

  • Overall Length: 8.25”
  • Blade Length: 3.25”
  • Steel: Aus-8
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 4.875”
  • Handle Material: GFN
  • Lock Mechanism: Liner
  • Open system: Manual flipper tab
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: Tip-down pocket clip

I gave this knife a hard time in my review because the pocket clip gives it a pretty bad hot spot and it’s clunky in the pocket, but I still carry it all the time. It’s the blade that really sells this knife. Even when it starts getting a little dull you can get a lot done just with the slight recurve shape of the edge. And it’s so wide you have a lot of material to hit stuff with. I’ve actually used it as a kind of emergency machete a few times, hacking at brush or straggling branches because I wasn’t smart enough to bring something bigger along.

The CRKT pocketknife being gripped in a man's hand in the forest.

So long as you keep it sharp, though, the real perk of this knife is how it slices. And while the body of it is bulky, that’s part of what makes it a working knife (at least, that’s what the designer Ken Onion intended). It’s bulky but easy to clean, the steel is middle of the road but easier to sharpen, and the general overbuilt design makes it that much easier to grip and manipulate when you’re wearing gloves.

Click here to check out my full review of the CRKT Shenanigan.

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Ruger CRKT 2-Stage Compact

The Ruger CRKT Two Stage Compact is one of the toughest hard use budget pocket knives on the market.

  • Overall Length: 8.3”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Steel: 8Cr17MoV
  • Blade Style: Tanto
  • Handle Length: 5.0”
  • Handle Material: Aluminum and stainless steel
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame lock
  • Open system: Manual flipper tab
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System:4-positions pocket clip

This knife makes a good club and a better prybar, but you might have a little trouble getting it to slice any kind of fine line. It excels in pure toughness on a budget. You can throw it against a brick wall without hurting it. And even if you do hurt it, the small chip of paint that might flake off it is a negligible percentage of the mass of the knife as a whole.

The blade of the Ruger CRKT 2-Stage Compact deploys easily.

If you’re breaking down cardboard, or need to take a piece off a big chunk of wood, this isn’t a bad knife to pack around. The tanto style blade has also come in handy quite a few times as a way to work between sheets of metal or pry pieces of wood apart. The manufacturing isn’t perfect, but it carries itself well by virtue of its bulk. It’s sort of like the Tonka truck of folding knives. When all your grandchildren are standing around your coffin, they could be arguing over what the hell to do with this old knife you still have in your pocket. Of all the knives on this list, this is easily the one that can take the most abuse.

We didn’t exactly throw it at brick walls, but if you want to see it chop, check out our full review of it here.

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Opinel #9

The Opinel is a classic hard use durable knife for people who need a beater knife to get hard work done.

  • Overall Length: 8.15”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Steel: High carbon
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Length: 4.65”
  • Handle Material: Beechwood
  • Lock Mechanism: Virobloc
  • Open system: Manual nail nick
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Pocket (some leather sheaths available)

As hesitant as I am to include something that isn’t one-handed open, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t say the Opinel design is underappreciated as a working knife.

The Opinel Number 9 open on a tree stump outdoors.

 

It’s nothing fancy, which is what makes it so durable. It would be a nightmare to open with a gloved hand, but once you’ve got it, the round handle is actually pretty well made for a clunky grip. On top of that, it’s really made to get dirty. If I recall, this was originally a design for farmers (like most friction folder designs). The ring lock isn’t flashy, but it’s more than enough to keep the blade secure, and the smooth wood handle and straightforward blade design have become classic over time, but when they first appeared on the market they were just the bare bones features for a working knife. There are no weird grooves that might pack up grime, and it has a price that makes it pretty painless to replace should the worst happen.

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Cold Steel Pocket Bushman

The Pocket Bushman from Cold Steel is an under valued knife . Considering it's great price and toughness it should be more famous.

 

  • Overall Length: 10.25
  • Blade Length: 4.5”
  • Steel: 4116 German stainless steel
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Length: 5.75”
  • Handle Material: Stainless steel
  • Lock Mechanism: Ram safe
  • Open system: Manual thumb stud
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Reversible tip-up pocket clip

Cold Steel would have a lot more knives on this list but most of the really good stuff I wanted to put in here tops the $70 mark. I almost included the Voyager anyway just because we’ve used that thing so much, but if let in one $70 hard-use knife I’d have to let a few more gems in here, and then it would just be a different blog.

The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman folding knife in a man's hand over a burlap background.

The Pocket Bushman is a surprisingly fancy knife considering the price, though. They’ve packed a lot of features into this specifically to make it a hard-use knife. The main one of course being the Ram safe lock mechanism. This is essentially a backlock bar on a spring system that is always engaged. You actually have to pull the back bar down from the bottom of the knife for opening and closing the knife.

There were some big problems with this lock system when the Bushman first came out, but those were fixed in later iterations and now it’s nearly unbreakable. If there’s any real problem with this knife it’s the two-handed opening. Some people claim to have methods for one-handed opening this knife, but Cold Steel doesn’t recommend doing that. That’s probably why they’ve since moved on to the Tri-ad lock.

But whatever ergonomic issues the Pocket Bushman might have, it’s still a massively tough folding knife for a great price.

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Knives Under 100 Dollars

Off-Grid Badger

The Off-Grid Badger knife with a stonewashed blade on a white background.

  • Overall Length: 6.9”
  • Blade Length: 3.0”
  • Steel: D2
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 3.9”
  • Handle Material: FRN
  • Lock Mechanism: Liner w/ Grid Lock
  • Open system: Flipper
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Tip-up clip, left or right

Off Grid makes most of their knives with hard use in mind, but this is one of the few that uses their Grid Lock system. It’s a simple system that keeps the liner lock from accidentally disengaging, which is a comfort to have for idiots like me who often find themselves hacking and prying with knives in gloved hands, and can’t always feels when the lock is getting pushed away.

The Off-Grid Badger folding knife in the open position sitting on a mossy rock outdoors.

With D2 steel and the FRN scales, it’s pretty hard to hurt this knife. I’ve put it through a lot of abuse, and even after hammering it into a tree, the only problem it came out with was needing to be tightened up more often. Thankfully Off Grid made this easy to take apart and maintain.

Personally I prefer the ergonomics of its big brother, the Rhino, but that’s still running in $70 range, and you can still get a lot done with this fat little thing.

Read our full review of the Badger if you want to read more about how I abused it.

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Kizer Vanguard Sheepdog

The Kizer Vanguard Sheepdog folding knife shown in both the open and closed positions on a white background.

  • Overall Length: 7.75”
  • Blade Length: 3.125”
  • Steel: CTS-BD1N
  • Blade Style: Sheepsfoot
  • Handle Length: 3.9”
  • Handle Material: Micarta or G-10
  • Lock Mechanism: Liner Lock
  • Open system: Flipper
  • Grind: Plain
  • Carry System: Tip-up

The Kizer Sheepdog is one of the most popular hard use knives on the market for several reasons. The first reason is that it is an extremely tough and well designed knife. The other reason is that Kizer offers the Sheepdog in three different sizes, two different handle options and several different color options. It is kinda like buying a custom knife without having to pay a custom knife price.

The Kizer Sheepdog sitting on a rusty of piece of metal.

Conidering it’s sub $100 price tag it is impressive that the Sheepdog comes with CTS-BD1N steel. That is a steel that offers great edge retention, but is usually only found on  more expensive knives like the Spyderco ParaMilitary 2.

We are currently testing this knife out and writing an in depth review. We will post a link to the review when it is done.

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Cold Steel Voyager XL

The Cold Steel Voyager XL shown open and closed.

  • Overall Length: 12.25”
  • Blade Length: 5.50”
  • Steel: AUS-10A
  • Blade Style: Drop point, Tanto or
  • Handle Length: 6.75”
  • Handle Material: Griv-Ex
  • Lock Mechanism: Lockback (TriAd Lock)
  • Open system: Flipper
  • Grind: Hollow or Plain (depending on the blade)
  • Carry System: Tip-up clip, left or right

The Voyager XL from Cold Steel is a big pocket knife. Really big. However, it is more comfortable to carry than I expected it to be when I first ordered it. That being said, if you prefer smaller knives this beast is probably not what you are looking for. The Voyager has been around for a while, and it has gone through a lot of changes to both the design and the steel. The end result of this evolution is a durable and surprisingly practical folding knife that thinks it’s a fixed blade.

The Cold Steel Voyager folding knife sitting on a branch in the open position.

The newest design of the Voyager XL features AUS10 steel which is an excellent hard use steel. In fact I think it is the best steel for hard use knives other than Niolox, but AUS10 is a more budget friendly option. The version pictured above is Cold Steel’s previous model with AUS8 steel. There are still a few of those around online at resellers that sell used knives.

The Voyager XL can be purchased with a drop point, tanto or vaquero blade, and there are smaller versions of the Voyager as well. We did a review of the Cold Steel Voyager XL a while back. Check it out if want to see more photos or see what we thought of it.

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Off-Grid Rhino

The Off-Grid Rhino folding knife with a stonewashed blade in the open position.

  • Overall Length: 8.25″
  • Blade Length: 3.5″
  • Blade Width: 3.5mm
  • Blade Steel: D2
  • Handle Length: 3.5″
  • Blade shape: Drop Point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Type: Liner

This knife is neither light nor small, but this is not an article about small and light knives. It is about tough, durable knives capable of actual work, and the Off-Grid Rhino definitely that type of knife. The 3.5mm thick blade can hand tough tasks, and the thick g-10 handle scales can take a beating. This knife is easily the best overall slicer on this list thanks to it’s excellent blade geometry.

The Off-Grid Rhino hard use pocket knife outdoors on a granite boulder. The Rhino is not an assisted opening knife, but it’s action is so smooth it feels like it is. One handed opening is also pretty easy, and the liner lock has handles everything we threw at it during our multi week in depth review. Click here to read our Rhino review if you want to see how the knife handled our testing.

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If you are willing to spend a little a bit more than $100 for a hard use knife. Check out our review of the Cold Steel 4MAX Scout. It may well be the ultimate hard use knife.

What is a Hard Use Design

Dirt and impact are what I most expect a knife to handle well in order to count as “hard use”. I should be able to drop it out of a tree, get it covered in mud, and easily deploy and use it with gloves on, then clean it up at the end of the day with no chips in the edge. That comes down to something with a simple design and tough construction that’s easy to clean and maintain.

When I say you should get a simple design, I mostly mean one that’s easy to clean. And even more I mean that you shouldn’t get an assisted-open knife. The more mechanics there are on a knife the more things that can go wrong. The CRKT Ruger 2-Stage Compact is a great example of a simple design. It’s just two big pieces of metal with some sharper metal sandwiched in between. It doesn’t perform the best, but it won’t break easily, and it will always be easy to fix.

What’s the Best Steel, Handle, and Grind for a Hard Use Knife

In every case, “best” is going to be a little different, and sometimes it doesn’t matter what the materials and structure are if the company has made everything well. But there is a tier of importance when we’re talking about knives that are going to see a lot of dirt and impact:

Tough Knife Priorities:

  • Soft steel
  • Simple design
  • G-10, FRN, or Micarta scales w/ aggressive texture
  • Flat grind over convex grind
  • Convex grind over hollow grind
  • Frame lock over liner lock
  • Edge retention

Grind and Steel

All those characteristics can be expanded into a ton of different materials, but here are a few combinations that I’ve found the most useful in my own experiences of doing a lot of dirty work and sometimes using knives on stuff they really shouldn’t be used for:

  • D2 steel w/ a flat grind
  • Aus-10 w/ a convex grind
  • Aus-8 steel w/ a flat grind
  • 8Cr13MoV w/ a hollow grind

The last one was easily the worst knife I’ve worked with consistently, but the steel was soft enough that the grind didn’t get damaged too badly if I dropped it or accidentally hit rock or metal when I was cutting (it was also a pretty cheap knife that I didn’t mind breaking). Normally you really want to avoid blades with a hollow grind because it just makes the edge too thin to be out in the rough, but good design or execution can always make exceptions.

Here’s the breakdown as I see it:

  • If you need a really slicey knife get a flat grind with thin blade stock,
  • If you need durability get a flat grind with thick blade stock.

But The Maker is More Important than the Materials

A good heat treatment does more for toughness and edge retention than any combination of chromium, vanadium, and carbon.

At the end of the day, all the features and materials of a knife are secondary to the skill of the people who worked on it. That’s why Buck’s 420HC BOS steel is so highly regarded. In the hands of most other companies, 420HC is a pretty limp material, but in the hands of a master like Paul Bos it’s easily one of the best hard-use steels in terms of performance vs. price point. And most of the major companies like Kershaw, Cold Steel, Gerber Spyderco, and Boker know their way around steels like this.

Cold Steel, for example, can do some pretty amazing things with Aus-8, and Gerber has reached a point where their 420HC is easily comparable to Buck’s. And while 8Cr13MoV gets a lot of noses turned up at it for being soft Chinese steel, it still comes out pretty formidable on the Kershaw CQC series. That’s largely because Emerson is damn good at designing a tough knife, and the Kershaw factories (which are also the Zero Tolerance factories and the Shun knife factories) are efficient works of art in their own right.

If you want simple steel recommendations, though, here’s a simple list:

  • D2 is king,
  • Aus-8 can be pretty good too,
  • AUS10A is even better
  • 8Cr13MoV is fine in a pinch.

But honestly you should be buying knives for the company, not the materials.

Handle Material

Here’s the TL;DR: Just get something in G-10 scales with good texturing.

My assumption is that most people are holding hard-use knives with gloves on. That makes G-10 scales with an aggressive texture the most common ideal. Both the Rat 2 and the ESEE Zancudo are pretty good examples of this. Even with gloves on I can usually feel a sort of “stickiness” between the handles and the glove material. It really doesn’t take a lot of texturing to make even FRN scales effective as well, though. My Boker Plus Patriot is nothing if not glove friendly, but it’s definitely not fun to hold bare handed.

Just avoid knives with handles that have been smoothed and polished, sort of like the Micarta on the Buck Selkirk.

Liner Locks vs Frame Locks

The rule of thumb is that frame locks are stronger than liner locks, but, again, this is an issue of skilled craftsmanship. The Rat 2 is a liner lock, but I’ve abused the hell out of it and never had an issue with the lock weakening or the scales coming loose. Conversely, the ESEE Zancudo is tiny brick that could probably survive a tank blast. Can’t imagine a situation where it would need to, though.